The Cavs saw its odds of winning an NBA title skyrocket after James returned, but now the franchise is quickly becoming the favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals, although the Chicago Bulls might disagree.
Long-time NBA coach George Karl appeared on SportsCenter Thursday afternoon and said he believes the Cavs can contend for a title.
“(Love’s) a triple-double threat, as is LeBron. I think Kyrie Irving is going to grow because of this. This could be a team with three Olympians in 2016; Because of that, they are a championship contender.”
While Karl kind of said Cleveland could go all the way, he quickly made some wiggle room to change his mind by talking up what might be the Cavs’ biggest weakness: Defense.
“…Are they going to be good enough defensively? Remember, NBA champions are usually a top 10 defense. This basketball team, right now, on paper, I’m not sure this is a top 10 NBA defense…”
Karl noted the Cavs lack of a rim protector as it reason the team could have difficulties deep in the playoffs.
When Love is guarding the ball, he’s great, allowing .721 points per possession in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports, via The Washington Post.
However, when Love is asked to help on pick-and-rolls, or to help teammates defend the basket, he struggles, as highlighted in this article from the Bleacher Report.
This CBS Sports story also highlighted Love’s defensive problems:
“(Love) has a tendency not to foul inside and while that can be viewed as a positive thing because you’re not giving up easy free throw attempts, he does just let the player go up without much shot contesting. When he’s in position, he does a solid job of helping and keeping position. When he’s not in position, he does a poor job of consistently figuring out how to make the best defensive play happen.”
The Cavs have been rumored to be searching for a legitimate rim protector but have yet to sign any free agents. The team’s starting center figures to be Anderson Varejao, but the Brazilian veteran struggles to stay healthy and is more of a guy who’ is more likely to take a charges than challenge someone at the rim.
LeBron James can be the NBA Defensive Player of the Year when he wants to be, but Irving struggled under the team’s “defense first” mindset of a season ago. By the end of 2013-2014, defense was a rumor to Irving, as CBS writer Zach Harper summed it up: “Irving was often hidden on the opposing team’s worst offensive wing and still struggled to put up an acceptable resistance to whomever he was guarding.”